Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Robert Kaylor, "Carny" (1980).

c. David Grim (taken 5/11/08)

So I've finally gotten to do something I've waited more than five years for- I've seen the movie "Carny". Starring Robbie Robertson (lead singer/guitarist for The band) and Gary Busey, "Carny" exposes the secret world of the carnival worker of the 70's. Recognizable character actors such as Elisha Cook, Jr., Meg Foster, and Craig Wasson pad out the rest of the cast. And yes... just in case you want to stop reading right here- it is awesome.

But why would I have waited so long to see this treat? Because it was just recently made available in the DVD format. If you wanted to see it before its 2009 release, you had to track down a pre-viewed copy (probably from some small, super-hip independent video store which would likely gouge you if indeed it was even willing to part with its sacred treasure). I was able to do that once, but I popped it into my VHS player only to discover it was irretrievably worn beyond the point of watching.

Director Robert Kaylor had a remarkably brief career as a filmmaker. Over a period of twenty years he helmed a total of four movies. From the evidence of "Carny", and the reviews of one of his other flicks ("Derby"), the man had talent. It's easy to speculate as to why a guy like Kaylor never produced more work, but the truth is that there is sometimes no easy or accessible answer. The man toiled before the age of the Internet, and there is very little to be found with a short Google search of his name.

Anyway, why should you be interested? Well... do you know that carny slang is some of the hippest argot in all of Western culture? You know all that "izzy and bizzat" stuff that the rap community started laying out in the 90's? You guessed it... that originated on the midway. AND there is a patch, flat stores, stick joints, a hootchie-cootchie tent, and a 10-in-1 (with genuine, alive-on-the-inside, human oddities like "Percilla the Monkey Girl" and her husband Emmitt Bejano, the Alligator-Skinned Man ). Mmm-hmmm. I could eat up all that flash like candy. And Jodie Foster looks alright in her burlesque outfit as well.

But what really blows me away is Busey as the Bozo in the dunk tank. It's the role that he was born to play. He is absolutely maniacal and brings me right back to the Great Allentown Fair where I saw that act as a kid every year. That alone is worth the time and effort I invested in owning this.


  1. Good review. You must have partially inherited the interest in carnivals, circus, oddities, sideshows and other things odd from me.

    Let's see. I can get this old Carny for $24, the "other Carny" for $10, or the "new" Carnies for about $15. I saw one review for the Lou Diamond Phillips one which says you haven't seen anything until you see Phillips firing away at an amimation gargoyle riding a roller coaster. The one you review sounds a bit (hah) better than the others. I think I'll wait and see when I visit ya. I'd get it, but I just don't buy movies as I don't watch them more than once. Unless, of course, I'm desperate to see it and there's no other way..I get that.

    Perhaps a bit mainstream for you, but I see Water for Elephants is being released soon for the big screen.

  2. Jeff,

    Well... this one is worth buying as a document of the times. Good luck finding it otherwise. But yeah... I understand not wanting to get into the buying habit.

    I read Water for Elephants. I liked it fine. Y'know what else? There was a six part series on PBS called "Circus". That's also worth having. I watched it last week.

  3. A few months back I watched a number of episodes documenting a small traveling circus based in the States. It focused on the lives of the performers and how they handled circus life. Some were new to the circus, some were vets, some traveled with families. Setting up and breaking down the tent was also interesting. I'm guessing this was the series you were talking about.

  4. From your description, it seems like you are talking about the same mini-series that I purchased. It documented the back stage life of the Big Apple Circuc, based out of Walden, NY and an annual staple at the Lincoln Center, NYC.